you keep saying you want to get up early, come on, now
but I’m so tired. do I really have to get up?
It goes on like that for awhile; I won’t repeat all the parts. Outside, it’s still quiet. Outside, it’s still dark. Here at my desk, I actually need the candle, and even though I’m yawning, I’m so glad to be here. I’ve missed the sense of being at the computer so early that I can barely remember what it is that I’m saying as I type it, and my head says: what are we doing here? and outside the birds are still asleep and, back up in the North Bay, this would be the time that the owls were talking to each other. No owls yet here in midtown Oakland. No deer either. The wildlife look different here.
Still, this is what I know: the earlier I can rise, the more writing I can do in the morning before I have to go in to “work.” Also, the earlier I’ll get tired, so the (ostensibly) easier it will be to get up and do it again tomorrow. Why am I telling you all of this? Because it’s early, and I’m tired. And I’m proud of myself for getting out of bed.
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This morning I am thinking about trauma and community, about intimacy and how we learn to find something like home in others after home turned out to be the unsafest place of all. Last night I went to hear my friend Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore read from her latest book, The End of San Francisco. It’s a novel memoir, wrangling with hope and possibility in communities that crumble, communities of folks who are all facing death all the time– in the early 90s, for the folks she’s writing abut, to be queer was to face death; to be just coming out of incest was to face death.
It’s the first Mattilda and I’ve seen each other in a few years — when she talks about being left by community, I feel like a part of the problem; it’s my own inside voice indicting me, she never has, even though I have become a friend who doesn’t return calls and is utterly out of touch, without explanation. This used to be my all-the-time modus operandi: befriend, get close, disappear. You cannot hold me, I wanted people to know. You cannot need me. I am too wounded — no, I am not worthy. Maybe both.
There are folks in my writing community, like Mattilda, who write so brilliantly about these communities of queer young folks trying so hard — succeeding, then failing, then trying again — to build something new, to build something that was about feeding and holding each other, that was about edginess and freakiness, that invited a different kind of visibility, the loud kids with the drugs and the dyed hair and the big music and the bigger rage.
I was never with those kids. I never stepped into that way of survival, and when I read about it (even as I understand its limitations and failings, all that it could not do to save so many folks), I feel envious and sad, even as, last night, during the Q&A, when someone asked about the violence of nostalgia, and Mattilda spoke eloquently about the way that nostalgia erases reality: we want to return to a Golden Age — wasn’t it so much better then? We forget how fucked up and scared we were, then. We forget how fucked up and scared everyone was.
Community has been the most difficult part of my rebuilding. As a teenager, I learned betrayal early and often. My friendships were shallow, because my stepfather demanded that I first tell him everything there was to know about my friends, and then that I quit wasting my time with them. This went double for boyfriends. What am I trying to say? In high school, I slid around community, skating on the surface of connection: no one knew who I was or what happened when I went home after school; I kept my grades up, was often funny, and sure slept with all the boys in my math class, but even that didn’t make me too much of a pariah. Still, the only time I saw any of these people was in the halls, in class — outside of school, I belonged to him. It was only a little different when I went away for college: he kept me tethered by threats, through the demand for constant (and hours-long) phone calls, talking me out of every friendship and undermining every relationship. He taught me elitism, taught me to question everyone’s motives (though he didn’t abide questionings of his own behavior), and demanded my constant availability for his needs.
After I walked away from him at 21, I did not know how to be a friend. I did not know how to trust anyone. I had friendships, yes, which I invariably sexualized and then the connection would terrify me. The only sort of relationship I was familiar with was the single intimate partnership that would take precedence over everything else in my life. It’s taken me years to learn to be the sort of friend who regularly returns phone calls, who will show up in a crisis, who will allow others to show up for her during (instead of after) a crisis. And I am still struggling with it. I read about those communities of queer kids who at least try to have one another’s backs, and I think, what if?
Why am I writing this today? Because the isolation that we’re trained into during incest, during childhood abuse, during trauma — it gets into our blood, doesn’t it? That isolation became the place that I lived. It was safer than any engagement with another person. Writing was the way that I found out of alone, the way that I began to engage with a world larger than the tight wound I’d come to inhabit. In writing, I learned to practice being human — and then, thank goodness, there were some people who let me practice with them, off the page.
I continue to be astonished that there are people in the world who want to be my friend, who show up for me because of who I am, and not in spite of. This is a long write today. Do you know about isolation, about not being the right kind of survivor, about not being good enough, about feeling like a bad friend? Maybe that’s the prompt for today. Give yourself fifteen minutes — follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.
Thank you for all the ways you care for yourself as you relearn the possibilities of intimacy. Thank you for your patience with your broken heart. Thank you for your words.